Ode to a Duo, a Committee, a Community.

Ode to a Duo, a Committee, a Community.

With an ingrained habit of looking for a comedic twist or a clever turn with which to tell you the news of the day, I thought I had just the approach to take for this guest column: I would write an ode to a duo and tell you how Connie Swain and Ann Lilly made the Ode to Joy Celebration of Schiller Park come true.

That fantasy lasted as long as it took me to look up the word "ode."

Seems an ode is not a tribute, as I thought, but a lyric poem of some length written in an elevated style.

"Some length" and "elevated style" both proved impossible so, instead, I am offering up some of the stories behind the Ode to Joy project as my homage to the people who practice that incredible brand of citizenship found only in German Village.

Connie Swain met Ann Lilly 30 or so years ago when she moved to German Village.

In those early days, Connie and her husband Marshall were watching daughter Laura grow with more focused attention than the first landing on the moon got, and Ann was keeping all of the plates spinning in the air for the College of the Arts at OSU, while also serving as a member and longtime chairwoman of the German Village Commission.

Connie and two close friends also with toddlers, Elspeth Willoughby and Janet Druen, formed the Friends of Schiller Park in hopes of drumming up funds for some quality play equipment.

Three decades and three quarters of a million dollars later, they have quality play equipment as well as pedestrian lights, an amphitheater, picnic tables, a resurfaced carriage path, the Umbrella Girl fountain, the Grace Highfield Garden, bollards at the entrances, welcome gardens, a restored pond, new signs, and park benches and trash cans.

They also have 4 8/9 grandchildren between them, but Friends of Schiller doesn't get any credit for that.

Along the way, Connie learned that any time a project mattered, whether it was a conference to gather historic preservationists from across the country, a garden planted in tribute to a cherished friend, or the publication of the German Village Commission's Guidelines ... the projects that really mattered benefited from the wisdom of Ann Lilly.

Connie has never tried to resist being carried away by a brilliant idea, and Ann has never once, by anyone on God's green earth's calculations, been rushed to judgment. That blend of big dreams and carefully laid foundations makes for some amazing outcomes. And some crazy lunches.

So when Columbus' Bicentennial, a desire to explore public art for the park, the realization that we had been guilty of benign neglect of the Schiller monument and its story, and the need to revitalize the Friends of Schiller Park all got stirred up at once, I stood back and let Connie's imagination and Ann's farsightedness and prudence shape a celebration.

You simply cannot imagine the months of work they have put into this.

Friedrich von Schiller, born in 1759 in the very region of German that so many Columbus Germans claimed ancestry, was a philosopher, historian and dramatist whose contemporaries were Goethe, Beethoven and Mozart.

He features prominently in the cultural history of Germany and helped spread the theories of the Enlightenment through his various written works.

His words were used by Beethoven as the lyrics for the final movement of his Ninth Symphony, Ode to Joy.

Our weekend event, Ode to Joy, A Bicentennial Celebration of Schiller Park, will commemorate the park's place in Columbus history, the stirring words of Schiller, the splendor of the last movement of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony, and the generosity and civic pride of area residents have only become more cherished over time.

I wrote the grant applications, and finally, after 10 years of thinking about it, found an excuse to play Ode to Joy from the bell tower at St. Mary Church.

My greatest contribution was in gathering a circle of friends to serve as the steering committee. Bill Mains, Bill Curlis, Brigid Butler, Mike Cornelis, Christine Leonard, Paul Soehnlen, David Holloway, Ashley Stephens, P. Susan Sharrock, Meghan Humphries and Jason Krauss put a turbo engine behind our ideas, as did Rob Hilbert, Carol Mullinax, Kevin Lohr and Liese Kuehn.

There is a new garden at the base of the Schiller monument, lights to shine on the statue for years to come, an illumination program planned for Saturday, Sept. 8, with performances by the Harmony Project, the Columbus Maennerchor, the Amazing Giants and the director of Actors' Theatre.

There will be a tent party on Deshler Avenue with desserts and dancing, and anyone who has a sip of champagne will have entered into a pact to serve as a Friend of Schiller Park.

Sunday , Sept. 9, there will be a picnic with music by the All People Band, a living history program with help from the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium, Columbus Oktoberfest, The Columbus Maennerchor and Kinderchor, the Clipper Baseball historian and Actor's Theatre.

Everyone will have the opportunity to learn to measure an historic tree and factor its age. There will be a pie-baking contest, and a scavenger hunt.

Big prizes, serious bragging rights.

Larry Hamill will take a family portrait perched above the crowd in a bucket truck, and Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams will dish up the good stuff for all of the park lovers who turn out for the picture.

The Merion Village Society and Schumacher Place Civic Association have pitched in, the German Village Garten Club will decorate the fence around the monument, the 200Columbus Bicentennial Commission has promoted the weekend and a host committee with tremendous civic reach has sold tickets for the dessert party.

Our partner in all of this has been the Columbus Department of Recreation and Parks.

Creating a program, writing a new tour, drafting language for the sign we plan to add to the monument all required careful enquiry.

We wanted materials based in fact, not urban legend. Carol Mullinax, Jody Graichen, and Scott Caputo have provided the research to ensure historical accuracy and authenticity.

And then ... enter Liese Kuehn.

Liese Kuehn is a German Village resident of more than 50 years, with a scholarly understanding of Schiller's work, and an ability to read his words in the original language.

More than a student of Schiller's, Mrs. Kuehn is a devotee. His good humor in spite of poor health, his ability to regale his friends with clever conversation, and his themes of personal freedom and democracy are precious to her.

It is not a stretch at all for me to imagine that Schiller's certainty that it is possible to elevate the moral character of a people, by first touching their souls with beauty, influenced Mrs. Kuehn as a young women to choose the artist Edmund Kuehn as her husband.

For our celebration Mrs. Kuehn poured over the original Ode to Joy as Schiller wrote it, and provided a translation that is crisp and light-filled, in which each word carries Schiller's intentions. Along with the lights at the monument and the new garden, this Ode to Joy translation done for the Bicentennial Celebration in Schiller Park, will be a lasting asset that belongs to the community.

Stories are the most basic instrument for connecting us to one another.

People absorb, remember, and are transformed by stories. Bill Doughton's stories of learning to kiss a girl in Schiller Park, of Connie Swain and Ann Lilly forging a friendship that has provided immeasurable joy, of Columbus purchasing a grove as its second public park, of working class immigrants and their lofty ideals and remarkable generosity, and of the caretakers of these legacies who live here today.

I have to admit, serving as a story catcher in this little magical kingdom is very easy lifting. As long as one doesn't get ambitious and imagine writing an ode, that is.

Katharine Moore, chairman of Friends of Schiller Park, and former director of the German Village Society submitted the Village Notebook column to the ThisWeek German Village Gazette.